Thursday, March 31, 2005

American Cancer Society President Allegedly Calls Tobacco Manufacturers "Terrorists"

According to an article in today's Jerusalem Post, American Cancer Society president Dr. John Seffrin told members of the Israel Cancer Association that all those involved in the production and marketing of tobacco products are "terrorists." The article quotes Seffrin as stating that by 2020, "one third of all deaths worldwide will be caused by tobacco and its terrorists." The article states that: "In repeatedly calling the purveyors of tobacco terrorists, Seffrin noted that they knowingly push a product that kills."

The Rest of the Story

Assuming that the article is accurate and Seffrin did in fact call tobacco manufacturers like Philip Morris "terrorists," is it not then egregious that Seffrin's American Cancer Society is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with this "terrorist" group in pushing for legislation (the FDA tobacco bill) that will significantly aid the "terrorist" organization? Is the American Cancer Society not aiding and abetting a "terrorist" group by working with Philip Morris to secure legislation that is highly desired by this company, so much that the company's web site touts how much Philip Morris is "committed" to this legislation and how "diligently" the company is working to promote it?

How hypocritical can a public health organization be? How can you, on the one hand, call Philip Morris a "terrorist" group, and then on the other, work side-by-side with Philip Morris to advance legislation that it dearly wants? Are you not then supporting "terrorism?"

I completely reject any reference to tobacco manufacturers and marketers as "terrorists," and if Dr. Seffrin made this remark (and there is no reason to believe that the Post is not being accurate in its reporting), I think it is inappropriate, irresponsible, and plainly wrong.

Terrorism is defined as "The unlawful or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." There is nothing that tobacco manufacturers are doing that could even remotely be considered to be terrorism. Their manufacturing and promoting of tobacco products are lawful, they are not using force or violence against people or property, and they certainly do not have an intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments.

This appears to be yet another example of an inappropriate tactic being used by a public health organization to promote the tobacco control cause. Here, the American Cancer Society is apparently misusing and perhaps abusing the English language to rile up an Israeli audience about the tobacco problem, knowing that terrorism is a problem that has profound emotional significance for this group.

I certainly support efforts to mobilize citizens to take action about the problem of tobacco in our society. But these efforts should be based on some degree of integrity, reasonableness, and appropriateness. To call tobacco manufacturers terrorists is none of these three.

The ends do not justify the means, even in tobacco control. Just because we are working for a noble and important cause does not justify the use of misleading and inappropriate tactics. Comparing tobacco manufacturers to terrorists does a disservice not only to the families of those whose lives have actually been lost due to terrorism, but to the integrity of the tobacco control movement.

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